Will road success transform into success in their onw building? Big question of the day as the Panthers return to home ice tonight after their longest (4 games) road trip of the year to host the Atlanta Thrashers. The Panthers have the fewest wins at home in the NHL this year with four, hope to turn that around by continuing to play the way they’ve played on their road trip.
The Panthers have been on a streak of playing virtually every other day since the end of November and besides tonight’s game, play a home and home matchup against Carolina this Friday and Satruday, with the Saturday game on the road. Their next break of games will come at Christmas time during the NHL mandated break. With five games remaining before Christmas coach Peter DeBoer is expecting this group to finish strong!
For that to happen though a few things need top improve and as you can predict defence is one of them. While number one goalie Tomas Vokoun hasn’t played all that badly, the Panthers team GAA is 3.15 which ranks 27th in the league. There has been some improvement there lately as they’ve given up only 12 goals in their last six games. Finishing games is also an area that needs to become more consistent. The Panthers finally displayed that ability on the road trip in beating both New Jersey as well as the Islanders.
Their luck against Atlanta hasn’t been as good as the Thrashers beat the Panthers in the first meeting of the season when Maxim Afinogenov scored with six seconds left in regulation for the win. In their second meeting Ilya Kovalchuk tied the game with just over a minute left in regulation and the Panthers ended up losing 2-1 in the shootout. Max is a bit cold as of late with no points in his last five games, but has 26 points overall so far this season. Kovalchuk is the team leader in points with 31 including 17 goals, followed by Rich Peverley (whom I picked up off of waivers (?) in a fantasy league I’m in) with 30 points.
Thrasher goalie Johan Hedberg is 5-1 with a 1.69 GAA and a .944 save percentage in his last 6 games as he seems to have taken over as the number one job for the moment with Ondrej Pavelec struggling and Kari Lehtonen out due to back surgery.
Notes on tonight’s game that could have a bearing on the outcome: Atlanta is 11-1 when scoring first. They are 10-5-1 on the road while Florida is 4-6-5 at home. Atlanta sits currently in the 6th playoff position in the Eastern Conference and if they continue to play the way they have been playing, I see no reason for that to change. The Panthers are currently 9th in the East and with teams like Carolina, Philadelphia and even Montreal, struggling, need to take advantage of this opportunity against every team they play in the East and get as many points as possible. In regulation! Cannot afford to go to overtime with these teams in the east.
As well all know here in Florida, Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss (Stevie Wonder), and Tomas Vokoun have been the teams leaders lately. However, consistency is what we should be looking for and will need to find out if they have it in them to provide. When the Panthers keep things simple and play disciplined hockey, that is when they are at their best. Everyone knows that they generally have to work hard every shift, every night for things to go well, and when they play 5 on 5, they can hang in most games. It’s the PP and the PK that has caused problems overall.
Should be a good matchup tonight. Can’t wait to say “Batter up” “Drop That Puck”!
Thanks for reading.